Students Sophia Uchiyama (left) and Yichen Zhao use handheld detectors to look for radioactive sources during a training exercise at the HAMMER facility.
Thursday, June 28, 2018

As part of an ongoing effort to provide students more opportunities to use their skills after graduation, the Oregon State College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering is offering a graduate level nuclear security course in Applied Detection for Nuclear Security.

Hired last year for her nuclear security and safeguards expertise, nuclear engineering professor Camille Palmer is helping students expand their capabilities through hands on learning. “This Applied Detection for Nuclear Security course provides students with an opportunity to be trained on equipment and operations that are used by domestic and international border security officers to detect, identify and interdict the illicit movement of nuclear and radiological materials,” said Palmer.

For one element of the coursework, students attend a week long hands-on training operation at the Volpentest Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response (HAMMER) Federal Training Center at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. The HAMMER site is used primarily to train Hanford’s nuclear cleanup workers and emergency responders and has numerous specialty training areas and facilities.

“The handheld and mobile equipment border security officers use is very expensive and not available at Oregon State for training, so we go to HAMMER,” said Palmer. “The site has vehicle portal monitors, personnel portal monitors, and handheld equipment for students to use in various scenarios.”

In one such scenario, students split into two teams of smugglers and border patrol agents. The “smugglers” hide radioactive sources in a car, which then crosses “the border” where “agents” try to detect the radioactive materials with a portal monitor and handheld detectors.  

Offered as a summer session course through the Oregon State Corvallis campus, the course brings together both Oregon State Ecampus and on-campus students studying nuclear engineering and radiation health physics. “It’s a great opportunity for our Ecampus students to meet other fellow students and access world class training and facilities alongside students who’ve been studying here on campus,” said Kathryn Higley, Mr. and Mrs. Edward N. Rickert Jr. Endowed Professor and head of the Oregon State College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering. “

In addition to the Applied Detection for Nuclear Security course, plans are underway to offer five more nuclear security courses. “These courses will initially be available through our Ecampus offerings,” said Higley. “Nuclear security is a worldwide concern. We want to provide our students with this critical expertise so they can make a difference in the real world.”

— Jens Odegaard